Delayed Gratification

I’m going to start a new feature on the blog where I share resources that have been helpful for me along my own journey of recovery. Be it books, YouTube videos, TED Talks, or just a simple inspirational quote, the things I share here have made a significant impact in my life. I sincerely feel that a continued drive toward growth and personal development is an essential part of leading a fulfilled life, and in order to spark growth… one needs to seek new information.

Today, we are starting with a topic that has probably made more impact on how I live my life than anything else: DELAYED GRATIFICATION.

If you know me, you have probably heard me recite this mantra: “Are you willing to live a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can live the rest of your life like most people can’t?” That one little quote embodies everything about the concept of delayed gratification.  It’s essentially asking, are you willing to do something you aren’t super jazzed about for X amount of time, knowing that it will provide you with a greater reward in the long run? Or, to put it another way, are you willing to forego what you want NOW, to get more of what you want LATER?

In the early 1960’s an experiment known as “The Marshmallow Test” was performed on preschoolers to see how they handled a situation requiring delayed gratification. The video below is a TED Talk by a gentleman who replicated the study some years later in Columbia to see how the test would hold up across cultures. I’m not going to spoil the video. It’s only like six minutes long. I’ll have some commentary below, but I don’t want to give away the biggest lesson from this study.  

Okay, so the video is pretty cute and funny, but there was one thing in there that stood out to me more than anything else. They followed up with the kids from the original study 15 or 20 years later, and found that the kids that had somehow innately understood this “if I wait now, I’ll get more later” principal, were all successful. Now, we don’t know how they are defining success. It seems to be pointing toward scholarly and financial achievement, which has been a bone of contention with some people I have shown this to over the years. And, I wholeheartedly agree that money and education are not the only ways to measure success.  Although, if you’re getting hung up on that, you’re missing the bigger picture here. This concept can be applied to any goal you have set for yourself.

Think about it. If you want to learn to play the piano, you’re going to have to dedicate a lot of time that you could probably be doing something you’d find more enjoyable, like binge watching “The Office.” If you want to get in top physical shape, you’re going to have to spend a considerable amount of time in the gym, and probably give up the pizza and Cheezits. If you want to quit drinking, well, you’re probably going to have to forego almost everything you used to do. The catch is, when you decide to make the decision to sacrifice immediate gratification, it almost certainly comes with a larger reward later. The problem is that there is also this undetermined amount of time in between giving up what you want now, and getting the big reward later. This is where understanding the lessons from “The Marshmallow Test” comes in handy. If you know this principal at the core of your being, you wont give up when you don’t see immediate results. You’ll work as hard and as long it takes, because you understand that the prize is down the road waiting for you.

I can attest to the power of this first hand. When I went back to school at 30 years old, I can’t tell you how many people I knew who shared with me that they also wanted to go back to school. I finished the remainder of my bachelors in about 2.5 years, and moved straight into a graduate program. When I started grad school those same people were still telling me they wanted to go back to school, and now I had new people telling me how often they entertained the idea of getting a master’s degree. When I finished grad school, most of those people were still fantasizing about the idea of simply starting. If they all would have started, and just conceded to the fact that the next few years were going to be pretty damn hard, they would be right where they keep day dreaming they were. And, yes, I know people have a lot of different obstacles to move through to make these things a reality. But, look, I have a friend who has 4 kids, works a full time job, and somehow found time to enroll part time in an MBA program. It was brutal for him! However, he’s achieved something that only like 8% of the US population have, and he can now ask for a higher salary to help make life a little more comfortable for his family.

So, I ask you this: What have you been putting off, that deep down you ache to do? On the same token, what have you been holding on to that brings no real value to your life? What’s really stopping you from going after the life you know you deserve?